Thursday, September 9, 2010

Getting Internet in Athens

I so wish I were getting paid for this ad.
It wasn't that long ago (winter 2008) that people told me it would take three months to set up an internet connection in an Athenian apartment. If you were lucky. Greece was a bit behind on the Internet revolution. So many apartments (like mine) in a city of 5 million still don't have phone lines and broadband...I mean let's get serious here.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the chat forum.

Like so many other innovations -- toilets, televisions, cell phones -- web usage sky-rocketed from the lowest in the EU in 2006 to almost Western European levels, especially in Athens. It's more than numbers though. The sheer availability and affordability of Internet in Athens is impressive from free wi-fi hotspots, low-cost landline/web combos and Internet USB sticks (just now catching on in the US). 

Here is a look at what's worked for me and what hasn't so much.


 If you've been to Athens you've been to Syntagma Square. Tourists watch the Evzones change guard in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier and hop on the user-friendly metro either to Monastiraki or the Acropolis. Locals often have to change buses there or go to a central office for something nearby. 

Whatever you're doing you can pop open your laptop and enjoy FREE WI-FI. Totally, utterly free. No credit card, username, etc. required. It's pretty decent too. I've skyped with it on multiple ocassions.

The one drawback is it's sometimes not so mobile web friendly. Still. Free is free.


WIND is a pretty well known brandname across Europe and a serious player in Greece. 

For 9 months I used the WIND-Tellas Double Play unlimited plan. Less than 50 euro a month and included wi-fi at 24 mbps, unlimited calls to landlines in Greece, the US, Australia and a host of other countries (not Slovakia though, apparently). Just for kicks they throw in 60 minutes to cellphones in Greece. 

Occasionally the router failed miserably (about once a month at the most crucial moment possible) but other than that the service was steady and pretty fast by Greek standards.

WIND has other nice features (such as giving you mobile internet until you're all set up and ready to go) and was a decent cellphone provider before I switched companies for various other reasons.


Sorry to pick on one company but Vodafone gets the booby-prize in this competition.

Looks great on paper. Unlimited internet for 45 euro a month (plus VAT). I had a Vodafone stick that I bought while having Internet issues in Italy a year earlier so I only needed a two-month contract. 

Too bad they needed more documentation for internet than the New Jersey Division of Motor Vehicles needs for a driver's license. (For my European readers out there, the Driver's License is the main form of photo identification in the US and NJ has a 6 point ID system adopted after 9/11.)

Here is what you usually need to set phone/internet in Greece.

*ΑΦΜ (Tax ID number)

Not good enough for Vodafone. First, they asked me for the paper I got when I filed for a taxpayer ID. Luckily I remembered to keep that. Second, they needed a bill to prove my address. I was told it didn't have to have my name on it. Good thing because I just moved apartments. Brought that in. Computer was down. Came back a week later. Sorry, you do need your name on it.

That was on my sixth trip. And that 45 euro plan? It shot up past 50 euro in the time it took me to make all of those trips.



Cosmote is the mobile and internet offshoot of the former state-run telecom monopoly OTE. OTE -- now owned by Deutsche telecoms -- still owns the country's landline infrastructure but it has to share with other Internet companies.

WIND, VODAFONE, et al have brought European know-how to Greece but Cosmote still has the home field advantage of infrastructure and name-brand recognition.

Because a lot of people I know have Cosmote and grumbled about my WIND number (see above) when they had free in-network calls I switched over to Cosmote's i45 plan for my iPhone. (By the way here's a guide on how to unlock your iPhone free and legitly.)

Since wi-fi was out of my reach I tried tethering my iPhone to my laptop for awhile. Worked great. Super fast and I had Internet everywhere I went. But math wasn't on my side. I get 750 mbs per month with my phone plan. Apparently I use between 50-100 mbs per day just with e-mail, facebook, google maps, news, blogging and the occasional youtube binge. I needed some kind of an unlimited plan.

After the debacle with Vodafone I decided to go full bore with Cosmote. 50 euro (before VAT), unlimited internet. Sweet.

Well, not so fast.

Cosmote didn't need a bill from my house but they did need the paper proving my ΑΦΜ, which they didn't realize at first. At least they had the decency to call and tell me what they needed instead of breaking my heart on multiple trips.

On my second visit I was all set to go but they were going to give me a 7 mbps stick. That's the same speed as my old Vodafone stick and pretty slow. I asked if they could do better. Πιο γρηγόρο παρακαλώ... They said they could, 28.8 mbps, better than most wi-fi, but they wouldn't have it until the next day.

Something to watch for: Unlimited isn't really unlimited. In Cosmote's case, it's 30gb. I.e. a gigabyte a day. Way more than most people need, but it's also about 15 movies, for you iTunes fiends out there. So keep it in mind.

Got the stick. Signed the contract. Life is good, right? Well it took over an hour for my account to get activated and when I called the support line the shop gave me in the interim, the support line told me to talk to the shop. Went back to the shop with a different issue (misprinted cellphone re-charge card, totally random) and they said to wait five minutes.

Five minutes later, sure enough my connection was alive and I could send text messages. Yippee. Still no Internet though. Huh? The stick only came with instructions for a PC and I'm a mac user. The "help" section of the "Mobile Partner" software was utterly useless.

To make a long story short, you have to create a profile (Options -- > Tools -- > create profile), and type the word "internet" into the APN (static) field. That's it. So simple but I would have never have known of without this site.

Voila! Lightning fast Internet.

It'll feel great until the bill comes...


On Telecoms, Forthnet


An earlier version of this story said that OTE had been purchased by "Dutch telecom". It was actually purchased by Deutsche telecom, i.e. a German, not Dutch company. 

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